Back to the salt mines…

I’m working on something really interesting for the blog, but alas, stupid duty calls (complete 2016-17 schedule to complete the 2016-17  budget, complete budget to do projections….$^~#@$^%@~!).  I’ll leave you with a link to my favorite Showbiz Kid performance from this weekend’s Solo and Ensemble Qualifying event.  (as always, forgive the not so stellar quality of the cell phone recording…)

O Lovely Peace from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus oratorio:

Performed by Showbiz Kid and partner (they are headed to the state event with this one)


After bearing witness to the latest tiny tornado in the Richard Armitage Twitterverse, I’ve been reflecting a bit on Twitter.  (If you are not aware of the storm in question, don’t fret – given the lay of the land – another one will no doubt emerge.)  I’ve long wondered exactly what the point of Twitter is, what role it plays.  It’s difficult enough to have any kind of civil exchange on social media (98% of the reason why I’ve taken a hiatus from my personal Facebook feed.)  The 140 character limit of Twitter seriously impedes any kind of real discussion, and potentially encourages incendiary exchanges with the extensive use of cryptic emojis and abbreviations.   Clearly, it’s not terribly conducive to conversation beyond quips.  As I was watching the opening credits of HBO’s ROME in class the other night, an apt comparison hit me…

Here a series of Roman artworks and collected pieces of graffiti are animated and run across the walls as the credits roll.  Behind them the viewer also sees all kinds of static writing on the walls of the city.  Graffiti writing seems to have been a very common part of Roman life, and it is tremendously interesting to archaeologists and historians because it provides a view into a segment of life that is not well represented by the usual suspects of ancient writers.  With the graffiti, we can see what the man on the street was up to – literally!  Unfortunately, due to the nature of the evidence – much of it scratched or painted on exterior plaster wall surfaces – almost none of it survives in normal contexts.  However,  thanks (once again) to the 79 A.D. eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, a compelling body of Roman epigraphy has been preserved.

Ancient graffiti Source

Ancient graffiti

The graffiti of Pompeii and Herculaneum provide a fascinating, somewhat shocking, window into daily life among the Romans.  Ranging from semi official political campaign ads to “status updates” to the ancient equivalent of bathroom stall endorsements, Roman graffiti really does seem to function in way very similar to a contemporary social media platform like Twitter.  Here are just examples:

Checking in…

checking in

Lovers and Lovelorn

lovers and lovelorn

at the BIG brothel (that is, there were many)

at the brothel

Waiting at the courthouse…


Political endorsements


Political endorsements?

dubious endorsements


These are just a few of the thousands that have been and continue to be recorded, and while I am sure that a particularly vivid or large graffito would have drawn wide notice (as was the intent)

"Romans go home" scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian

“Romans go home” scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian

I have never read about a serious fracas that was caused by something as transient as a wall scribble. Since walls were often re-plastered or re-painted, here today, gone tomorrow was the rule of the day for graffiti – strikingly similar to a certain Twitter stream right?  When push comes to shove,  it seems that in a practical sense, Twitter serves basically the same function as graffiti – without the threat of a fine for vandalism!   🙂


I think my favorite piece of Roman graffiti by far,  is a sentiment which shows up at several locations around Pompeii and Herculaneum and reads something like:

I wonder, O, wall, that you have not fallen in ruins from supporting the inanities of so many scribblers.

It would be remarkably easy to adapt this to a great deal of what goes on on Twitter on any given day.

“A horse! A horse!” (I’ll bet you know the rest Richard Armitage…)

The spring semester is in full swing and after a brief hiatus, I’m back in Rome again…HBO’s Rome, that is.  I suppose it’s not surprising that I’m veering toward things Roman.  Res Romani Equites as it happens.

The equestrian statue…namely, a general or other prominent person ahorse, can be found in many ancient cultures, but it became a characteristically Roman thing.  The Romans, in all of their militaristic showmanship, really loved the commemorative life sized equestrian statue…a pedestrian strolling through the ancient Roman forum would have passed any number of them.

This pair depicting the proconsul Marcus Nonius Balbus, was found in prominent position in the forum of the seaside resort of Herculaneum which was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79AD.  The cities of Vesuvius yielded a number of well preserved examples of one the Roman’s favorite forms of public display…but all in marble.  Marble statues are nice, but the cream of the crop equestrian statues in Rome, depicting victorious generals and conquering emperors, would certainly have been cast in beautiful gleaming bronze.

The problem with bronze is that nobody following the Romans chose pagan equestrian statues over Christian cannon balls and bullets.  In fact, later inhabitants of previously Roman territories were so diligent in melting these statues down, that only a single one remains…

Marcus Aurelius Ahorse Capitoline Museum - Rome

Marcus Aurelius Ahorse
Capitoline Museum – Rome

Most scholars agree that this bronze escaped the melting pot because it was originally mis-attributed as a sculpture of the 4th century emperor Constantine who was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity.   It really is a beautiful example of Roman bronzework and of the interest they had in displaying imperial power.  The bits of the horse’s face that are free of patina give a hint at how stunning pieces like this would have looked when gleaming in the Roman sunlight.

Given Richard Armitage’s well established affinity to a number of res Romani, it stands to reason that he could give a credible showing in this beloved Roman genre, and sure enough,

gisborne equestrian 1

he nails the overall equestrian stance here as Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood S2 Ep10, and a close up reveals that he’s got the imperial gravitas under control as well.


Fast forward a few years and here he is again…as a king this time…once again owning the equestrian look:

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that he’s cheating a bit since he’s using stirrups where the Roman equestrians are clearly without them. (Much more challenging to keep one’s seat and control ones mount without stirrups – they are not thought to have arrived in Europe until the Middle Ages).  

Speaking of the Middle Ages, I’m anticipating an impressive addition to the equestrian corpus once Raymond de Merville arrives on the scene.


Methinks I spy a stirrup off the left gauntlet…

Saddle Up Armitageworld!

“The Greeks” are here!!!

These Greeks that is

Richard Armitage isn’t the only thing that can make me go, “Squee!!”  The presence of 500 plus Greek artifacts only 150 miles away works too!  Bestie and I have set a date (dangerously close to the “close of special exhibit” crowd issue, but so be it) to go, so naturally, I set to trawling around the interwebs to get a preview of the exhibit and came across a photo array from the Chicago Tribune.  One piece in particular caught my eye because I’d seen him before on a visit to the old museum at Sparta years ago.

The photo caption reads, “Statue of Hoplite, known as Leonidas (Acropolis of Sparta 480-470 BCE) at the Field Museum exhibit The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great.”

It’s quite doubtful that this is meant to be understood as any sort of portrait of Leonidas, but it could well have been erected on the Spartan acropolis as a dedicatory monument to him.  Leonidas is arguably the most well known of the the Spartan warrior kings due to the Thermopylae episode…you know the one…where he, leading a detachment of 300 Spartan hoplites held the entire invading Persian army of Xerxes at bay long enough for the rest of the Greek coalition forces to retreat and regroup.  Leonidas and his men enjoyed the pinnacle of a Spartan military career – that is, every last one of them ultimately died in battle at the hands of Xerxes, but their actions enabled the rest of the Greek army to escape to fight another day (and to go on to defeat Xerxes against almost astronomical odds!).

Compared to what Athenian sculptors of the same period were producing, this particular piece isn’t particularly remarkable, but I remember it being a standout item in the comparatively tiny Sparta Archaeological Museum.  Worthy of a sculpture geeky “squee” for sure!

Now if only I could figure out a way to work my other main source of “squee” in here somehow…

ra leonidas yelling 1

Yep – that’s the stuff!


Richard Armitage ἠθοποιοφόρος

In classical sculpture, there’s a lot of “bearing” going on…

There’s the Doryphoros (Δορυφόρος)  – The Spear Bearer (the spear is lost)

More literally, we have the Moschophoros (Μοσχοφόρος) – The Calf Bearer

and the Kriophoros (Κριοφόρος) – The Ram Bearer

As it happens, Richard Armitage emerges as Ἠθοποιοφόρος (eeth-o-poi-o-four-os) – The Actress Bearer in numerous roles…

From Robin Hood S3 E9 we have Meg-phoros…

and Strikeback S1 E2:  Katie-phoros

Last, but certainly not least, there’s Hannibal S3 E11…Reba-phoros (in motion!)

Interestingly, in every instance I’ve seen, Armitage Ἠθοποιοφόρος is carrying the actress in question bridal style…arguably the hardest way to carry an adult human.  It’s fascinating to me that women being ported around is still such a romanticized element in contemporary performance – that it’s also referred to as princess style is plenty telling…the whole “sweep her off her feet” thing.  I’ve been tossing the notion around from a variety of perspectives for a few days.

Even considering the strength differential between genders, carrying an adult is not something most men I know undertake on a regular basis.  I was recently watching a standup routine in which comedian Bill Burr joked about this very topic.  In an extension of a bit about the impracticality of sex scenes in rom-com – you know the ones…where the impossibly handsome leading man sweeps the willowy leading lady off her feet, bearing her effortlessly to the bedroom where she practically floats out of his arms to lay on the conveniently turned down bed – Burr points out to the women in the audience…“You’re heavy!”  At a chorus of female gasps he says something like, “What?  When did you stop carrying your kids around?!”  He goes on to qualify by pointing out that even on the low side, the average adult woman weighs something over 100lbs (45kg) and more to the point, that this weight is not evenly distributed when carrying bridal style – “you don’t go to lift weights with 20 pounds on one side and 80 on the other.”

He’s got a point there…remembering back, I think I stopped carrying my kids around when they reached about 40-ish pounds.  Unless they rode piggyback or on my shoulders, they were just too heavy to lug around – I don’t want to carry the 40lb box of cat litter either, but at least that’s got a handle!  It’s clear that this operation is fairly impractical, yet it is quite common in dramatic performance. I assume dramatic performers learn ways and means to make it appear more effortless than it actually is.  I also assume that actresses don’t just hang there like a sack of potatoes, but actively assist in the carry.  Interested, I reached out to my in house drama advisor regarding actress cartage.

Showbiz Kid is 6’0″ tall 220 pounds and is regularly called upon to lift and carry his female colleagues around on stage.  He confirmed that some of the girls are much easier to lift and carry…even if they are heavier.  For instance Eliza, though very slim, “just schlups about like overcooked manicotti when anyone tries to lift her” while Lily, who outweighs Eliza by 40 or so pounds, “carries herself” and is much easier to lift and carry.   It’s probably worth noting that Eliza has had tap training – emphasis on connection to the floor, while Lily is schooled in ballet.  It’s not a very long leap to assume that if high school performers are schooled in lifting, so are professional actors.

If you watch the above gif again closely (*cough*) it looks to me as if Rutina Wesley is plenty involved in this lift…her feet touch the floor and it seems that she pushes off to kind of “jump” up at the same time as he’s lifting from below.  (I love the repetition of the gif…I wonder how many takes this scene needed- maybe that stomping out of the room wasn’t characterization as much as muscle fatigue?)

Practicality aside, I also wondered about why this is such a persistent image in dramatic performance.  In the images above, two depict Armitage Ἠθοποιοφόρος bearing a wounded character…a woman who could not carry herself from point A to point B…this is self explanatory.  Guy and Porter couldn’t just throw Meg, recently speared by a pike, or Katie with her severed hand, over the shoulder in a fireman carry and be on the way.

The scene from Hannibal where Dolarhyde sweeps Reba off the sofa is something else entirely. Here, there’s a clear fantasy element playing out…the notion of her being so desirable that he can’t wait for her to walk on her own, or risk that she’ll walk away, so he wisks her up off her feet and rapidly bears her away.  I’d be a giant liar if I didn’t admit that this was an evocative scene to watch in the moment.  For me, it’s a weird thing…the “I can do it myself” side of me wants to be in control of my own business, while the fantasy side of me is drawn to the display of power depicted here.

While I was pondering this whole question, I also wondered if petite women get tired of people (particularly men) trying to carry them around.  On some level, it seems like it could be perceived as infantalizing.  Truthfully, I’ve known more than a few petite women who’ve complained that they hate it when people pick them up and move them from place to place – that they may be small, but they are not children who’s will is often subordinated to that of an adult.  Conversely, I’ve also known many non petite women who would cheerfully elect to be boiled in oil before having anyone lift and carry them anywhere.  Curious.

Carry On Armitageworld!